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Crimes put Marshall students on edge

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Students on Marshall University's Huntington campus are on high alert after a string of violent crimes prompted three separate emergency alerts from the university within five days.

The Marshall University Police Department and Huntington Police Department responded to back-to-back armed robberies within blocks of campus last Friday and Saturday nights.

Huntington Police have since charged Julian Johnson, 25, of Huntington; Antonio Lockhart, 22, of Inkster, Mich.; and Monroe Avant, 22, of Huntington with armed robbery.

Students were notified of the most recent crime Tuesday night in an email from James Terry, head of the Marshall University Police Department.

The message said a female student was sexually assaulted near the Huntington campus at around 11 p.m. Monday night. He said the incident happened as the student was walking alone to her car, which was parked on the 500 block of 20th Street across from campus.

The suspect is a 6-foot to 6-foot-2 white male in his 30s with brown hair and brown facial hair, police said.

Marshall police officer Bobby Minnix said the crime is especially alarming because it appears to have been a random act of violence.

Only 21 percent of rapes and sexual assaults against women are committed by strangers, according to a 2010 report by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics.

The string of crimes has rocked the Marshall community.

Lindsey Davis, 19, a freshman physical education student from St. Albans, said she has changed her routines.

"I don't feel safe at all. It's kind of ridiculous," said Davis, who lives off-campus in Huntington. "I just had my friends drop me off for class so I wouldn't have to walk."

Leah Tolliver, director of the Marshall University Women's Center, said it is especially important for victims of sexual assault to seek help.

"It's a traumatic event and you're going to have some kind of traumatic response to those things," Tolliver said. "It's really important to talk to someone supportive."

Marshall tries to prevent crime against students. Tolliver said the women's center distributes a booklet to incoming freshman students with information on sexual assault, including acquaintance rape and signs of non-consent.

The women's center has an on-call counselor 24 hours a day.

Minnix said his department offers eight-week rape defense classes twice a semester.

"It instills a lot more self-confidence," Minnix said.

He said about 200 students go through the program every semester. It teaches risk awareness, reduction and avoidance, along with hands-on physical defense techniques.

Minnix said there are security cameras and emergency help phones around campus, and there are at least two bike patrols and one vehicle patrol at all times.

Tolliver said Marshall is one of 10 West Virginia colleges participating in a federal grant program through the Violence Against Women Act. The three-year grant is a partnership between the 10 schools, the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission and the West Virginia Foundation for Rape Information Services.

Minnix said the Huntington Police Department has increased patrols in response to the crimes near campus. He said students should travel in groups and be aware of their surroundings, especially at night. He encourages students to save the department's hotline, (304) 696-4357, in their phones.



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